A Wall In Your Heart
Following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (70 C.E.), the outer western wall of the Temple Mount became Judaism’s most holy and sacred space. The Western Wall, or the Kotel was never abandoned by Jewish people and there was always a special veneration for that holy space.
Naomi Shemer wrote Jerusalem of Gold three weeks before the outbreak of the Six Day War. She sang of the holy city with a wall in its heart.
Around her heart my city carries
A lonely ancient wall.
She was obviously referring to the wall that separated the areas under Israeli and Jordanian control. Yet it also referred to the Wall itself, then under Jordanian control.
With the unification of Jerusalem, the Kotel became Jerusalem’s heart. Once under Israeli control, the Kotel plaza was enlarged and no trip to Israel was complete without a visit to the Wall. There one could worship with a minyan or privately, place notes in the Wall’s crevices or simply stand before a structure that has been in place for millennia.
The Kotel was also officially designated as an Orthodox Synagogue with separate sections for men and women, and where all forms of worship had to meet Orthodox standards. This clearly prohibited a Bat Mitzvah from reading from the Torah, any mixed seating or standing and any worship that deviates from Orthodox Judaism.
Twenty-five years ago, this monopoly was challenged by the Women of the Wall who gathered for prayer every Rosh Chodesh. Many of the women wore a talit, some donned tefillin and through the years many men joined these services. The constant demand to be permitted the use of a Torah and the right to read from Judaism’s holiest possession was deemed a violation of the accepted practice an Orthodox Synagogue as the kotel was officially designated.
Over the years there were ugly confrontations, police arrests and legal actions in this struggle to make the Kotel a place where all Jews could feel welcome. Over a year ago, the Israeli Cabinet by an overwhelming majority authorized the expansion and fuller development of the Southern Wall. Central to this compromise is that there will be a common entrance to this Western/Southern
complex. Everyone would enter the precincts from the same gate and could then choose the Wall before which he or she wished to stand. Those who so wish could worship without a mechitza. There would be no gender restrictions on wearing a tallit or donning tefillin. In this venue women might read from the Torah, and all forms of non-Orthodox Services would be respected.
When this decision was made, it was clear that, like all compromises, neither the Orthodox leadership nor the Women of the Wall nor the adherents of other religious streams had all their wishes fulfilled.
It has been over a year since the Israeli government promised to create the egalitarian site at the Western Wall. It has stalled due to ultra-Orthodox opposition.
The Israeli government is going to have to do better to enforce its decision. I’m not holding my breath.
Still, we continue to hope. The compromise will truly be a win-win for all if the result is that adherents of all religious groups will respect one another as fellow Jewish people who strive to become closer to G-d. Then and only then will the Wall be the truly sanctified space of all Am Yisrael, all Jewish people.